The NFC North looks wide open right now. One of the greatest quarterbacks of all time could potentially be leaving the division. Or at the very least, there is a chance Aaron Rodgers sits out next season.
It’s not just the Packers. The Chicago Bears have committed nearly $13 million in cap space to the three quarterbacks on their roster: Justin Fields, Andy Dalton, and Nick Foles. And don’t forget about the Detroit Lions. They just traded Matthew Stafford, the most reliable quarterback in team history, for Jared Goff — an inconsistent player with upside who is heading into his prime.
The lone survivor of offseason shuffling and quarterback issues is the Minnesota Vikings.
However, they can’t just hope other teams stumble, opening a pathway for them to win their first division title since 2017. The Vikings need to capitalize on their window of opportunity.
Are they better than their divisional opponents? Let’s take a look.
Detroit Lions | 2020-21 record: 5-11 | Projected Finish: 6-11
Detroit drafted Penei Sewell seventh overall, and he looks to be the starting right tackle — helping to make room for D’Andre Swift and protecting Jared Goff on Day 1. Following the firing of head coach Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn, Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell are hoping to correct course with a revamped offense behind Goff.
The loss of Kenny Golladay in free agency will hurt their passing game, but Detroit should make a small jump forward this season from their 5-11 finish last year. Swift is entering his second year and will be playing behind a solid o-line and the defense. And the defense led by Jamie Collins should contain opposing rushers and wreak havoc in the backfield.
Chicago Bears | 2020-21 Record: 8-8 | Projected Finish: 7-10
Chicago drafted Fields 13th overall, hoping he is their quarterback of the future, but given that the team has promoted Dalton as “QB1,” he could be the Day 1 starter. Should Dalton struggle, look for drama to ensue and fans to clamor for a change.
The Bears bring back a defense ranked 14th in the league, but their pass coverage could become an issue with the loss of veteran corner Kyle Fuller. The defense has always been Chicago’s strength, so anticipate a slight step back — especially if they run “quarterback by committee” throughout the season.
The x-factor for them is Fields. If he beats out Dalton and Foles in the preseason and plays like a player who was in the mix to be taken top-three in this year’s draft, Chicago could contend for the division title next year.
Green Bay Packers | 2020-21 Record: 13-3 | Projected Finish: 10-7
Green Bay filled quite a few needs in the draft, all while hoping to appease a disgruntled Rodgers. They drafted Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes to help provide depth in the secondary and lineman Josh Myers from Ohio State to potentially replace Corey Linsley, who signed with the Chargers in free agency.
However, much of what happened on draft night was overshadowed by Rodgers’ potential departure. Last year’s MVP remains disgruntled because the Packers drafted Jordan Love in the first round a year ago and has expressed displeasure at the front office’s ability to provide him with offensive weapons.
Still, the Packers are the Packers, and with the NFL’s No. 1-ranked offense and a defense that gets better every year, look for them to stay near the top of the division. But given the current state of affairs with Rodgers, anything is possible this season — including this quarterback drama derailing the entire season from the start.
Minnesota Vikings | 2020-21 Record: 7-9 | Projected Finish: 11-6
Minnesota reloaded in the offseason. They added Patrick Peterson and Dalvin Tomlinson in free agency and drafted a tackle they should be able to start on Day 1, Christian Darrisaw, 23rd overall. Coming off a subpar finish last season where the lone highlight was Justin Jefferson’s ascendance after trading Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills, the Vikings seemingly hold the keys to the division.
The other teams don’t have enough talent, aren’t developed enough, or are in a drama-induced frenzy. Minnesota is looking for their defense to return to form and their offense to continue their rise as they add protection for Kirk Cousins and running lanes for Dalvin Cook. Look for the Vikings to have a bounce-back year if they take advantage of the turmoil around them.
Also worth considering: The NFC North will play the NFC West and the AFC North in non-conference play this season.
Last year the Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Baltimore Ravens each finished with 11 or more wins, and the Cincinnati Bengals could potentially make a playoff push if they keep Joe Burrow healthy this year.
The NFC West won’t be a pushover either. The Seattle Seahawks, Los Angeles Rams, and Arizona Cardinals finished above .500, and the lone sub-.500 team, the San Francisco 49ers, were in the Super Bowl two years ago. Minnesota finished 2-2 against the NFC West when they played the division in 2018, the best record any NFC North team had against the West. And they finished 3-1 against the AFC North in 2017, good for second behind Chicago’s 4-0 record last time they played one another.
With the uncertainty surrounding the other teams in the NFC North and Minnesota’s recent success among common opponents, they could retake the division crown next year for the first time since 2017.